Nobody makes it through life unscathed. For those inevitable bumps, scratches and bruises, it's a fairly common practice for people to have a first aid kit handy. They're mandated in most workplaces and most homes will have a first aid box, drawer, or repurposed biscuit tin that does the job. They're one of those things that you can go forever without needing, but when you do, you do! So why can't we have a first aid kit for our mental health too?
For those that regularly experience mental distress, medical attention isn't required a lot of the time, but it can be a struggle to give ourselves what we need in order to feel better when we're overwhelmed. When we're emotionally activated, a lot of the time rational thinking goes out of the window and we can barely think straight - let alone make logical decisions about what we should do next. In times like this it can be helpful to have a coping kit - an easily accessible assortment of bits and bobs that you know help to soothe you and calm you down.
Whether you've got a diagnosed mental illness or are just really feeling the weight of the world at the moment, it's always a good idea to have a reliable kit of strategies, resources and coping mechanisms to help you and your loved ones stay on track when things get a bit much.
Before you start putting together your coping kit, take some time to reflect on how your body and mind respond to stress. Knowing which situations and circumstances can cause you to become overwhelmed can help you identify the 'warning signs' that you experience when dealing with triggers. A lot of the time, just being able to identify these warning signs gives us a sense of control over our emotions, which can be a powerful tool when it comes to managing our responses!
What should you include in your coping kit?
Comfort Items & Coping Strategies form the basis of your coping kit - gather some of your favourite things that bring you comfort and joy. Engaging with our senses can be grounding and soothing, which can help restore a sense of security and connection to reality during challenging moments. These could be soft cuddly toys, scented candles or oils, a squishy stress ball, or even a cup of your favourite calming tea.
Listing Your Coping Strategies
We all have our own coping strategies that help us through difficult times. When our brain is in overdrive, it can be tough to remember exactly what they are, so it's helpful to write them down and keep a list in your coping kit. You can then select a strategy that you feel capable of connecting with, rather than relying on one particular method that might not always be available to you when you're in a heightened state. I've listed a few of my go-to coping strategies below - some of them I use once in a blue moon, and some of them have worked their way into my day to day routine, but they are all equally useful in their own ways!
1. Journalling - keep a notebook and your favourite pen ready, so you can easily write down your thoughts and feelings as a way to process and release emotions
2. Mindfulness & breathing exercises - controlled breathing exercises can reduce anxiety and help restore your nervous system to a state of calm. You can teach yourself a few simple exercises to keep in your 'toolbox', or make notes in your notebook.
3. Exercise - physical activity can help pull you out of your state of overwhelm as it releases endorphins. Something as basic as a gentle walk can help you, and sometimes the simple absurdity of doing jumping jacks while feeling rubbish is enough to distract you!
4. Creativity - colouring, drawing, painting, singing, playing a musical instrument. Being overwhelmed can have you feeling like you have all this energy and nothing to do with it, so sometimes channeling it into a creative outlet can really help.
5. Support - have a list of people that you can reach out to for support during the tough moments. This can include friends, family, or mental health professionals and helplines. Isolating yourself when feeling low is an easy thing to do, but often connecting with people can help us feel a little better.
6. Meditation - if you have absolutely no energy or capacity and can only muster the strength to lie there, use an app to take you through a guided meditation, or play some soothing nature sounds. It's better than laying there with nothing but your own thoughts.
7. Inspiration - when you come across, quotes, images or affirmations that resonate with you and make you feel good, save them to a folder on your phone so you can have some positive, encouraging media to consume when feeling low.
8. Distractions - sometimes you just need a mindless distraction. Books, puzzles, games - anything to provide a sense of escapism to help you get through the worst of the low points.
9. Personal messages - old birthday cards, cute messages from friends - just lovely things that people have said to you to remind yourself that you are loved, and you are absolutely and wholly valued even when we don't feel like it.
Remember - as we go through life, we will all experience times when the weight of the world feels too heavy to carry. If you're someone who faces mental health challenges, please know that you're not alone. Your well-being is paramount, and creating a mental health coping kit can be a powerful step toward self-care.
It's important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to managing stress and overwhelm. Your coping kit will be as unique as you are, and you can build it to be as simple or complicated as you need it to be. It's a reflection of your individual experiences, triggers, and sources of comfort. It's a tangible reminder that you have the strength within you to navigate even the toughest of days.
As you make and refine your coping kit, remember that there are no 'right' ways to do it, and no 'wrong' ways either! Fill your kit with items that wrap you in comfort, strategies that soothe your soul, and resources that offer a second solace. This kit is like your sanctuary, a safe space you can turn to when the world feels chaotic.
And always, be gentle with yourself. Progress isn't linear, and it's okay to have moments when your coping strategies may not seem effective. The same strategy may not work as well for you one day as it does the next. We are funny, messy beings, us humans - and that's all just a part of it! But ultimately, our worth is not defined by our struggles.
I hope that your coping kit serves as a reminder that you are deserving of care, compassion, and moments of peace. Reach out for support when you need it, whether it's from loved ones, professionals, or your own toolkit of strategies. You don't need to navigate your journey with grace ALL the time, but you do need to navigate it, and your coping kit is proof of your commitment to doing just that.
Visit https://mentalhealth.org.nz/ for more mental health resources and information.